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Serving the Very Sick, Very Frail, and Very Old: Geriatrics, Palliative Care, and Clinical Ethics.

  • Author(s): Smith, Alexander K
  • Micco, Guy
  • et al.
Abstract

How can we provide the best care for growing numbers of very frail, very sick, or very old people? The disciplines of geriatrics, palliative care, and clinical ethics each have a good deal to offer to improve care for elders, yet each field is saddled with heavy historical baggage. Using a case as a springboard, we address specific strengths and shortcomings of each field, and what these disciplines can learn from each other. Geriatrics is currently largely focused on prevention of disability, cognitive impairment, and death; it should reorganize around a palliative approach to providing care for elders living with multiple chronic conditions, disability, and dementia. Palliative care, while paying some attention to the spectrum of advanced illness, concentrates primarily on cancer; it should expand its central purpose to include providing supportive care to elders with serious illness and their caregivers. Ethics committee members and consultants principally stress individual autonomy; they need to expand their approach and develop longitudinal relationships with patients and family members, routinely incorporating them in deliberations and the crafting of recommendations. However, improving these three disciplines will only go so far toward improving the care of very frail, very sick, or very old people. What is most needed is longitudinal care provided by interdisciplinary primary care teams steeped in the core principles of all three disciplines.

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